Telemedicine: An Innovative Model That Gives the Homeless Community Access to Quality Health Care

Covid-19 has profoundly changed our lives. The thought that the person next to you can potentially affect you has exponentially increased everyone’s anxiety, thus affecting how people work and interact with each other. This has, however, become a severe challenge when it comes to persons experiencing homelessness. —who basically can’t survive without sharing some facilities such as bathing and ablutions.


Because of their increased risk of contracting and spreading the virus, local officials, health care providers, and other service providers have prioritized their care. For impactful and efficient care to this vulnerable group, health care experts have opted to leverage the power of technology. They are now using Telemedicine in providing much-needed help to homeless people.


Telemedicine is currently playing a significant role in providing patients with a convenient and cheap method of consulting clinicians. One most basic form of Telemedicine is telephone communication. This approach has made it easy to deliver much-needed quality health care to vulnerable patients virtually. Telemedicine is a more advanced form of video conferencing, which allows for real-time encounters and viewing of images and patient documents simultaneously.


Years ago, Telemedicine could not be practical for the homeless. However, things have changed, and technology is now accessible to almost everyone. Through the help of various organizations, Telemedicine has made it easier for the homeless to receive better health care. In a partnership announced last year, veterans dealing with homelessness were given the privilege of consulting with caseworkers through telehealth kiosks.


Generally, the homeless community has always had it rough accessing health care services, particularly specialty care such as otolaryngology. Here’s what a Chicago-based otolaryngologist had to say.


“I worked as an otolaryngologist at the Chicago Franciscan Outreach shelter for three years. Unfortunately, we only made it there a few days a month to help patients with tonsillitis, sinusitis, hearing loss, ear infections, and thyroid disorders. As such, our impact was limited. The onset of Covid-19 further paralyzed our services, forcing us to prioritize routine screenings.


To help solve the health care crisis within the homeless community, we have decided to partner with Rush University Medical Center and local homeless advocates to launch a virtual care program. Our primary focus is to provide otolaryngology care. The lost will have their ear, nose, and throat issues virtually addressed by a physician from a kiosk. Once in a while, they will get the opportunity for an in-person visit.


From my experience working with underserved communities, the best way to serve the homeless is to bring care to their doorstep. Besides making it easily accessible, it goes a long way in helping them save on the little money they have.


Combining Telemedicine and in-person visits are not limited to only delivering otolaryngology care. The same can be applied to other specialties in medicine across the United States to improve access to health care, cut down the costs involved, reduce the time wasted in delivering services face to face, and effectively care for the people struggling with homelessness.”